Understanding sight and hearing loss

Sight and hearing loss are can have a significant impact on a person’s life, both senses play a central role in our normal daily lives. Most people with even severe sight and hearing loss, still retain some useful sight and / or hearing – whilst it is a natural fear total sight and hearing loss is rare.

It can be challenging to develop or maintain independence, with home and work life being impacted, whilst mobility, self confidence, relationships, social and family life can become strained causing additional stress and anxiety.

Whilst a slow age related deterioration in both sight and hearing may seem inevitable, some people experience more significant sensory loss(es) either from birth or as result of trauma, or some medical conditions and their treatment. Deafblindness can also occur as a sensory processing condition, where the ears and eyes function normally but the brain is unable to process the input or experiences sensory overload.

Although our pages below consider sight and hearing loss separately, it is vital to remember that deafblindness is greater than the combination of two individual sensory impairments. Each impairment compounds the other making their impact both much more significant and wider ranging. For deafblind people their unique condition, impedes a natural sensory compensation process.

Sight loss

Sight loss can occur at any stage of life, almost 2 million people in the UK live with a sight loss, of these with approximately 360,000 people are registered for their sight loss. The majority of people living with uncorrectable sight loss, so an impairment which glasses or treatment cannot improve are older people. At age 75, one in five people are living with sight loss. This figure only increases with age.

Many people living with sight loss have their sight loss certified and then registered. This mean that their impairment is severe, and can be medically labelled as sight impaired (previously partially sighted) or severely sight impaired (previously blind) by an ophthalmologist.

The certification of a sight loss can only be completed by an ophthalmologist; they assess your sight measuring the visual acuity and field of vision. If these measurements meet the eligibility criteria, they will complete an official certificate with the results of your eye examination, certify you as either sight impaired or severely sight impaired. As part of the certification you will be asked for consent to share the certificate with various other professionals, including your local council to contact you to explain and offer registration.

Registration as sight impaired or severely sight impaired is entirely voluntary but does have some benefits outlined below. The register is held by your local council (or another organisation under contract), who will issue you with evidence that you have a registered sight loss. The council have a legal duty to keep maintain a sight loss register but you have the right to refuse to join the register, and will still be entitled to other appropriate support from the council. This support can include rehabilitation services and assessments.

There are many benefits to having your sight loss registered. Firstly you are issued with a registration card which can be used to access a wide range of concessions, such as for places of interest to visit. It can further decrease some daily living costs through entitlements to, reduced TV licence, reduced NHS costs, reduced council tax, increased tax allowances and free local public transport. It can also make claiming certain welfare benefits easier by evidencing your sight loss. Your exact entitlements will vary by whether you are registered sight impaired or severely sight impaired.

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can occur at any stage of life, approximately 11 million people in the UK live with a hearing loss, of these approximately 900,000 people have a severe to profound hearing loss – a severe to profound loss prevents access to spoken communication. The majority of people living with hearing loss are older people. At the age of 50, 40% of adults will have a hearing loss by the age of 70, it is 70% of adults and this figure will only increase with age. As many as 30% of over 70s also experience tinnitus, which can further impact their hearing.

Many people living with hearing loss either wear or could benefit from wearing hearing aids. The most commonly recognised hearing aid, is a behind the ear hearing aid it is the main type provided by the NHS – this aid has one purpose which is to amplify sound.

Behind The Ear hearing aid

Unfortunately a hearing aid does not replicate natural sounds, many people experience that their positive expectations of using a hearing aid are not fully met. An adjustment period is essential to getting the best from any hearing aid – you should though get the benefit of increased speech discrimination so you can hear voices better, and access everyday sounds like the doorbell.

There several levels of hearing loss ranging from mild to profound. With a mild loss you can experience some difficulties in conversations especially in a noisy environment whilst a person with a profound loss may not when stood next to it be able to hear a jet engine. The speech banana (insert image) give a pictorial representation of the sounds for speech, being able to access all these sounds is the main aim for hearing aid programming. Depending on your hearing loss you may benefit from unilateral or bilateral hearing aids, as the combination of sight and hearing loss has such a significant impact most deafblind people would benefit from bilateral hearing aids. With hearing aids in both ears access to directional sound is possible helping with daily life.

Unlike sight loss there is not a requirement for local councils to maintain a register or record of people living in their area with a hearing loss – though some choose to do so, in Wales only it is a legal requirement. As with sight loss having a registration card does not prove any entitlements but can be used as evidence for concessions.

A deafblind register

The Deafblind guidance requires in England that local councils keep a record of deafblind people living in their area. In practice some councils do chose to keep this as a register and issue cards for this registration though they are not legally required to do so. In Wales local councils are required to keep a deafblind register, but for Northern Ireland there is no legal requirement for a register or record.

If you would like to learn more about living with deafblindness, please click here